Bo Xilai: Murder Mystery, Potential Coup, or Both?

Is the story of the downfall of once influential Chinese politician Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai the elimination of a threat to the mainstream but corrupt Communist Party leadership, a financial scandal and murder mystery, or some combination of the two? 

It's likely that only the top echelon of leadership in China knows the truth, and even Internet speculation on a version other than the official one, involving a possible coup, will get you detained by the government.

The scandal surrounding disgraced politician Bo Xilai continues to reverberate in China, where official media Monday is calling for a tougher crackdown on online rumors. 

A headline article on the front page of Monday's People's Daily newspaper says “Internet Rumors Harm People and Harm our Society.” The English-language China Daily carries a Xinhua article quoting experts calling for harsh criminal sanctions against those who spread rumors online.

Neither article specifically mentions the case of recently fallen politician Bo Xilai. But the Xinhua article says authorities detained six people for spreading rumors last month about a coup in Beijing, which was supposedly backed by Bo supporters in the central government. The charismatic Bo is the former party secretary in the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing.

Last week's announcement that he was being fired from his position as one of the top leaders in the Chinese Communist party was accompanied by a report that his wife, Gu Kailai, is being investigated in the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in November. It also noted that Heywood had been friendly with the couple's son, Bo Guagua, who is studying at Harvard.

A Reuters exclusive looks to be the official version as events continue to unfold. But in a country where so much is censored, and people are afraid to talk to one another, let alone the media, cynical readers from more open societies can find plenty of reasons for doubt concerning different stories on the scandal.

(Reuters) - The British businessman whose murder has sparked political upheaval in China was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by a Chinese leader's wife to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation said. It was the first time a specific motive has been revealed for Neil Heywood's murder last November, a death which ended Chinese leader Bo Xilai's hopes of emerging as a top central leader and threw off balance the Communist Party's looming leadership succession.

Allegedly, Bo's wife Gu became angry at close friend, British businessman Neil Heywood, after she solicited his help in moving a large sum of money out of the country. He wanted more of a cut than she felt he deserved. When they argued, he threatened her with exposure. Then, she poisoned him - so the story goes.

But it's also clear her husband had a large following, especially among the military. Fear of his following reportedly led to communist officials uniting to oust him, just as they prepared for a once-in-a-decade meeting to appoint new senior leaders. Until these events, Bo Xilai was expected to become even more influential after that.

Chinese leaders' salaries are not extravagant and there have been questions about how Bo managed to fund the expensive Western schooling and lifestyle for his son, Bo Guagua, who also studied at Oxford university and is enrolled at Harvard. Bo said in March the schools were funded by scholarships. The sources said there had been no sign of any dispute between Gu and Heywood until October and November when the argument over funds began. The lack of a paper trail made it difficult for police to determine how much money was involved, they added.

One thing that makes it interesting is that Bo was on the left of the Communist Party and was said to be focused on fighting corruption and addressing a growing imbalance of wealth in China. As the leadership and other influential officials accumulate ever more wealth, the people to whom the Republic supposedly belongs are left behind. Was that the real Bo Xixai, or was he engaged in the same sort of corruption, leading him and his wife to try and get money out of the country? 

But what perhaps made Bo best known — and admired by the new left — was his promotion of “red revival” in Chongqing. He organized government workers and students to gather in parks to sing old revolutionary anthems. He ordered Chongqing’s local television station to dispense with prime-time game shows, sitcoms and commercials in favor of “patriotic” programming. He created a “red Twitter” account to blast off short, patriotic messages to local cellphones. And he dispatched bureaucrats and university students to do stints of manual labor in Chongqing’s rural areas.

In the wake of the scandal, the military, with leadership ranks of its own, went so far as to offer troops loyalty education. That supports the notion that there may have been actual fears of a potential coup, as the leader's wife was arrested and he disappeared.

BEIJING — Half of last week was a public holiday in China, but it was a busy week in the barracks. In many military bases and academies, political education sessions were scheduled at short notice to hammer home the message of the Communist Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces. “Everyone knows it’s about Bo Xilai, but we’re not supposed to talk about it,” said a young officer.

Meanwhile, government censors are blocking out some Internet searches; posts, quotes, and comments are disappearing overnight; and the only people one can find discussing it are doing so in a sort of code.

Heavy keyword censorship on Chinese microblogs did not stop Chinese Internet users from hotly debating the deepening scandal surrounding former high-profile politician Bo Xilai, whose wife is under investigation for the murder of a British businessman.

As for what really happened to Bo Xilai or what's to become of his wife, as there must be a public trial, different people may have different thoughts and opinions. But as long as China continues to be a closed society, the vast majority in China aren't free to express their opinions and may never have a chance to learn the real truth in the end.


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